Paradise Lost: In 1667 the manuscript was sold for ten pounds.
This is the continuation of a series in capturing the lives of people in parallel and of the zealotry and the dilemmas of our times often triggered, perhaps, by the different motivations. We wonder between the good and the bad; who is the decent and the honest and who really is the scumbag and thief and why even they have their defenders. Behind these dilemmas, some see God in the motivations, others see morality, yet others Nature. God has been more trouble that He is worth the bother, useful perhaps at a funeral and no more.
We don’t want to believe anymore than is necessary because we can be good without God. Evil shelters behind Him; He hampers our sense of fair judgment and the innocent are powerless when His name is invoked. At heart, we are all Spinozists and want to be so; things happen because they happen. Nature has no morality. If we made our values and pass them on we can also unmade them. We may record our judgments or our inclinations, and that’s that. We want no endorsement nor do wish for condemnation. It is fair enough if we only understand fully before we judge.
By necessity, parts of these stories and essays are personal. The author is indebted to Jian (below), his love, the sun, moon and stars. Idea for this parallel framework, the intimate and the personal side by side with the national and the public, was borrowed from J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year (2007). Series start here, Suicide, Revolutions & Chillies then The Golden Age of the Nihilist.
Out of the Woods. To Paradise
The image or notion of the money-grubbing Chinese, racist and ill-mannered to boot, so dominates Malaysian consciousness that it will be a shock to Malays to find that the Chinese, China or anywhere, don’t live or think the way Petra Kamarudin (representative of Anglophile racism) pictures them and want them to believe.
As recent as the 1980s, seven in ten Chinese live in rural China, usually mountainous, often secluded homes. Water comes from the mountain stream but you’d have to go and fetch it with a pail. There is no electricity, so many families have rebuilt their houses alongside the government constructed concrete roads then hook wires onto the electricity pylons. Warmth comes from burning firewood in winter. You, too, have to go get them — up 300 meters. Nobody sobs over these inconveniences. They do something about it, and many scam the way out of those mountains.
Above, a woman emerging from the forest approaches the city, surveying it as if a little apprehensive.
The many who abandon this rural life have not look back with regrets. When we first met, Jian and I, she had already been away for two years. It took another year before she would let me into her old world, lodged in the pine and cypress forests, winters washed in fog and snow and, in summers, we’d bath in the streams along the creeks and gullies — with nothing on, no sarongs, nothing.
Where the forest meet the stream, Jian stripped, threw her clothes onto a pile of rocks, and quickly waded in. The summer rain brings water down the creek more than the season before. In these parts, the morning mist still drift in from the forest and the heavens. Like a person who suddenly remembers the keys after stepping out of the gate, she turned around, stared at me and shouted: “What are you waiting for? Take off your clothes. Come quick!”
“What? Here?” I was still standing beside a pile of rocks strewn with her clothes.
“If not here, where? You want to bath with your clothes on?” she answered then sank into the water. It isn’t deep, just to the thighs. I thought I saw her shaking her head as if in disbelief.
Her answers weren’t for the question; it was meant differently. But questions mean differently here and, of course, to Jian. Only I hadn’t seen it that way before. Her normal was my abnormal; a normality not of innocence nor naivety but of a sinless-ness, without god, man nor serpents. Snakes are just food, not symbolic for behavior or thoughts or people, like the Indians. (RPK or Tan Keng Liang will think on those terms.) There are little snakes in the flooded summer rice fields, easy to fish out, take home, and throw into the pot. We collected some on the way back.
Those who believe village life as pristine and guileless aren’t just romantic after western biblical notions. They are deluded. Cities are simply villages extended. The difference being in the intensity and frequency of betrayals and, in the city, you are on your own — no family, no relatives, no school mates, no support, no bank savings, no waiting cars. Not even the government is with you; lucky if it is indifferent.
On her second day of her arrival some asshole, no different from those at 1MDB, scammed her of 500 yuan, part of the precious little she had. This happens with astonishing regularity, a 100 here, 300 there. I’m incredulous but she shrugs it off as a price of living, of being alive. Innocence is a luxury only for the dead. A year later, while we were living together, she lost 1,000 yuan — over the phone. But, the guilt is mine so that, to mollify it, to appease my incredulity, I gave her a thousand the first thing the next day before leaving for work. The pretext: our rent in advance.
She understood it differently, of course. “I understand, now, why I love you,” she smiled, still clutching the wad of notes. “Naive.”
Me naive? Me who has seen the world, and trained in one of its best universities? And that in the fine art of thinking and philosophizing and in solving problematic equations? But might it not be true: After all, humanity is not taught, it is cultivated. Which probably explains why many of the worse scums in Malaysia — the Joes, the Lows and the Razaks — had come from Oxford and Wharton. Their betrayals caused are no less painful than the man outside train stations waiting to scam adolescents arriving from the forested mountains.
Jian is half Miao on her mother’s side. Their women love ornamentation; the traditional ones are typically made of silver alloy, pictured above: cuffs, hair pins, hat, bracelets, necklaces. Many of them seem naturally skilled in embroidery, and clothing is quickest and most ready to work on when in the city. This intuitive inclination towards some objective beauty, hand crafted, probably explains why Jian very quickly leaned towards modelling (as in the one below).
Butterflies don’t fly backwards
by Arul Kanda Kandasamy
“You see, it is like this, Arul: You go in there, clean the boots — books or boots, they are the same — wash the walls, repaint, use white, always white, it means purity, and after that we’ll call in the inspectors. What they find depends on how well you do the job. Understand?“
He nodded out of habit, but it was months later before understanding reveals itself as consciousness.
Najib continued: “Don’t fail me now. Don’t mess this up. Stay cool. If you keep saying the same thing — recycling — then you can’t go wrong. Talk to the Press if you must. It’s all perception. My guru RPK taught me that. When talking, sound rational. Use Keng-Liang logic. Know what that is?”
He paused then added: “Never get angry. When you’re angry, logic fails you. Get it!“
Sixteen months later:
“Honestly, I’ll tell you guys. Honestly, I didn’t sign up for this.” — Arul Kanda, April 2016, talking selfie to reporters at The Edge, who promptly bought an honest, heart-to-heart story. “Poor Arul,” thus spake Jose ‘Bollocks’ Barrocks in ‘His job is not done yet‘.
& Post Arul
Hearing it from Arul Kanda, 1MDB is as good as finished. More recently Azalina Othman reaffirmed the genus of the same idea, leave it for dead. And to do that, they would cut the fastening lines then let that leaking old yacht named 1MDB drift off to sea. The longer it is moored onto the Malaysian government jetty, to Najib Razak in person, the greater is the hold of liability on both. Bad news attracts attention to itself.
Thus, said Lina, “there is no more issue with 1MDB.” After the report of the Parliament’s Public Account Committee, she added, all matters concerning the company is “for it to deal with, internally”.
O! Really, Lina? ‘An internal matter’, you say. Well, here would be Low Taek Jho’s answer long before 1MDB would be turned ‘internal’:
Are you telling me the prime minister doesn’t make his own decisions? That the ministry, the minister of finance, who is the prime minister – and there are only two to three people in the finance ministry that sign off on shareholder resolutions under law – that none of them… that they just signed without evaluating it?
Did the people supposed to be responsible for decision-making (at 1MDB) suddenly decide to absolve all their responsibilities and then create this PR campaign with me as the focus of it? .. (W)ho is the ultimate decision-maker on 1MDB?
There are so many other people who get away with ridiculous billions and billions and billions worth of projects. But every single time there seems to be a political attack, wow, suddenly Jho is there again.
Before, it was Jho boy; he knows too much. Now, it is Arul.
Like Arul whining today — ‘tired, doing more than he had signed up for‘ — and using The Edge as a bullhorn for wanting out, Low turned to Euromoney to deflect his role in looting paradise. The language though was still the Arulian-Wharton sort: woolly. In talking, not once does he give a number (which commands a precision that words can’t, an eternal truth). Nor does he deny the scam. Instead he pointed to the other fellas whereas he — sob, sob, sob — was just the fall guy.
But billions three times over? Was that US dollars or rupiah, Joey boy?
All that remains to be done today is to turn the shell of a company over to a private corporate body or individuals. Better yet, liquidate because something that is nothing attracts nothing. This is the way physical Nature works. The gravity laws: Only a thing with mass pulls to itself other matter.
Either way, that would be Arul’s job.
This has been done before, the 1MDB-PetroSaudi JV most pertinently; here today, gone tomorrow. Why be attached to a thing as a company? It isn’t life. Its use over, take the money, dump it as Low Taek Jho, his Arab friends and others in 1MDB did to Bridge Capital, Blackstone, Brazen Sky, Aabar BVI, PSI Caymans, and so on. Bank accounts, too.
Take 1MDB events the past six months — in particular, Arul stripping 1MDB off of every piece of furniture — and match them to his latest remarks and that of Azalina’s. Then, it is possible to see the sense in Lina’s latest gambit, while the investigations renewed by the Police and by the Attorney General could be allowed to run their course, take Sharol Halmi out to dry and, after which, to find a way to get him out. Here, thus, is probable cause to cut 1MDB loose. Which, really, is a way better than the pronouncements by some Saudi minister or the Attorney General that Najib Razak is innocent of corruption. Nobody believes them anyway.
That way is also better because attached to the charges against Najib isn’t just the money in the bank — the outward, manifested symbol in the morality of 1MDB. No, it is that creature, that Thing itself called 1MDB, train to Paradise, Car in the Great Malaysia Scam, Mother of Frauds. To it is latched monies, deals, bank transactions and, most problematic of all, the morality of its existence.
What might Arul think of the latest idea of Lina’s? What about his own life? His role in it? But, really, What is there to think? Arul might prized himself as some great financial wizard; in another word, a philistine. Indeed, dumb ass reporters go away (easily) impressed by him as a man of confidence, one who knows his work, and by dint of will he can fix things. 1MDB is for him to fix. So cocksure is he in that mission, Arul believes he can even straighten crooked timber.
“…the angry boy believes that by free will he wishes vengeance; the timid man thinks it is with free will he seeks flight; the drunkard believes that by a free command of his mind he speaks the things which when sober he wishes he had left unsaid. … All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak.”
That is, Arul’s sense of his work — ‘I didn’t sign up for this‘ — as if he acted out on a choice is, in truth, predicated on his illusions. His notions associated with 1MDB, ‘blame’, ‘praise’, ‘truth’, ‘substantiation’ are fathomable because he knows only things from experiences, any of which has landed him with a false ideal that he is in command of himself. Restated another way, Arul is no model of intellectualism nor intellectual courage, much less is he a Spinozist.
Arul must have thought, as did reporters at The Edge, he did a fabulous job, all that ‘rationalising’. After which, as if to round up a year’s rationalising work, he brags by whining. And that in front of the reporters about ‘possible’ fraud and ‘not signing up’. Lina retorts: that’s your ‘internal’ problem. It must have felt, to Arul, like betrayal. More important than his feelings, What might have Najib thought? But the fault is his: he had forgotten his true mission, itself overwhelmed by the inflated sense of his capability. To Najib, he was just a construction hand, whitewashing; not financial wizardry. In that, Najib doesn’t need an Arul; he has Tim Leissner, Jho Boy; they are a dime a dozen.
So you want to quit? Sure, boy, answers Najib. (Read this for example.) We’ll find you a way to quit.
Arul fails to see that, though his work is nearly over, the worse is not — not for him. Gone off the tracks, the train 1MDB going to Paradise is also going down hill, all the rationalising doesn’t alter the fact. No, rationalizing delivers the opposite to Arul’s intent. Joining a cast of fraudulent characters, beginning with Najib, his ‘rationalization plan’ is nothing but yet another fraud (Stage 3, in the next part of this post), a cover of earlier frauds — indeed, validating them — emptying 1MDB of its baggage, whitewashing its past, then cutting it loose from its moorings. In another word, a lie.
If rationalization was a lie, so were a hundred other things before. Rationalization simply reaffirmed the prior fraud committed in 1MDB: oil fields, strategic investments, assets exceeding liabilities, surplus cash in hand, cash equivalents, ‘level 3 assets’, offshore funds, segregated portfolio companies, after which every sheet of accounting for six years, the investment applications to Bank Negara, Jho Low, Tarek Obaid, a turkey prince, Aabar, Good Star, Blackstone. It just goes on and on and on — as long as Arul’s tongue, a man pretending to be a great specialist finance Fixer but, really, as events have turned out, they show him as just another dumb ass stooge. Like Jho Boy.
To even contemplate that 1MDB, after a make-over, could be resurrected showed he understood nothing from Najib’s instructions (see above). But to admit ‘possible’ fraud he has in fact call out the lies from Azalina Othman, Salleh Keruak, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Apandi Ali on the MACC investigations, even among Arul partners in IPIC… and after them the minions, from Tan Keng Liang to Ahi Attan.
So that, if all along those were lies, what have they now to say for the truth? Nothing, answers Lina. There is no issue with 1MDB. Nothing happened. Paradise got lost. We’re over it now. Move on.
If Arul had gotten ahead of Lina’s script, admitting possible fraud then asking to leave, the man must be worried. Imagine for a minute his expression still in his office: police, guns, handcuffs, offices ransacked, drawers pried open, files carted off, and then watching the back of Sharol trailing off in his shadows. Spinoza was right: ‘All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak.‘
Easy it is to appear like a tough, hardened man if Najib felt safe. But, Arul would be quite a different altogether once Najib, feeling on edge, begins lurking behind curtains. If they could throw Sharol under the bus, what might become of him? Might Arul do a Kevin Morais and put everything into a thumb drive then Fedex it off to a safe place? What might it contain?
In Part 2 of this post is, in capsule form, a schematic reproduction of what had gone through 1MDB in the years 2009 to the present. Money is its only preoccupation; that’s what 1MDB is all about, not the ‘synergies’ talked about, the foreign investments, international collaboration, jobs and so on. All lies. There was no great, grand idea that was botched, no Paradise waiting at 1MDB’s train destination. It was simply a scam, right from the opening bell of class. Because so much has been signed away, borrowed, taken out, transferred, so many bank accounts opened then closed, so many companies, so much money, even speeches in fraudulent language (‘high quality asset backed by cash equivalents’), it gets difficult tracking things with dead accuracy. Let’s try anyway, trusting the faith in ourselves.
This post continues next installment, Paradise Whitewashed, Looted, Part 2.